Review: MadBox 11.10

I've reviewed MadBox once before. That was version 10.10, and I reviewed it for Tech Drive-in that time. I concluded that it was a great replacement for #! for those who were disappointed by its move away from Ubuntu.

Main Screen
MadBox is an Ubuntu-based Openbox distribution that aims to be user-friendly as well. In essence, it is the successor to #! for the Ubuntu base. Development on MadBox and related applications like ADeskBar seemed to have ceased after version 10.10, but a few months ago (though I only found out about it a few weeks ago) a new version based on Ubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot" was released, coinciding with the unveiling of a new website for the distribution.

I tested this version using a live USB made with MultiSystem. Because this is Ubuntu-based, I tested neither the installation process nor the installation of programs like Skype and Google Talk because I know those will work. This is essentially just a quick overview of what's inside and what works/does not work out-of-the-box. If you want more details, I would like to refer you to my previous review linked above. Follow the jump to see what has changed in a year.

After getting past the boot menu, I was greeted by a minimal Ubuntu-style boot splash screen branded with the name of MadBox. That quickly led into the desktop. However, I realized that everything was in French, because the developer and primary audience are French. I do not begrudge them for that, but I do wish that there was an easier and more visible way to choose the language and keyboard layout for the live and installed sessions (as there is no such thing in MadBox right now, as far as I can tell), because there does seem to be a large percentage of MadBox users who primarily speak English (at least when it comes to using an operating system). Anyway, I rebooted and edited the GRUB boot command to replace all instances of "fr" and "fr_FR" to "en" and "en_US". After that, I got through the boot splash and then the desktop.

The desktop has actually changed very little since last year. There are only a few minor differences. The Conky instance displaying RAM and CPU usage has been removed, and I am OK with that. The logo for the ADeskBar main menu has been updated to reflect the developer's branding. The ADeskBar panel no longer has the drop-down terminal applet by default, though it can easily be added. The GTK+ theme looks slightly lighter than the Openbox titlebar theme, so now there is a color contrast that looks kind of annoying and that was not present before; this seems to be a slight regression of sorts. The icon theme is a gray version of Faenza, which is nice. Even the wallpaper is unchanged. The final change is that right-clicking on the desktop does not provide the Openbox menu, but this can be changed by selecting "Desktop Preferences" in the right-click menu. Overall, the desktop is basically just as nice as before, which is great.
The only other annoyance here is that some of the main menu entries have misleading descriptions. For example, the description for GParted has been copied over to at least 2 other completely unrelated applications.

Almost all of the default applications are the same as before, so I will not go through that again; the application selection on the whole is fairly sparse. I will say that Chromium worked just the same as before. This time, though, I checked to see if my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts were recognized, and they were not. That is rather strange for an Ubuntu-based distribution.
Also, there is one added application, and that is a GUI System Monitor. This time, I did not have to rely on Htop to provide information on system performance. Speaking of which, without compositing turned on, MadBox used 170 MB of RAM at idle, which is impressive as that is exactly the same as last year despite the gradual bloating of the Ubuntu base over that period of time.
There are a few prominent removals, though. One is Leafpad, which makes sense because Geany does even better as a text editor. The other is...Synaptic Package Manager? Why did that get removed? Now there is no GUI package manager at all, so now the only options are the CLI Aptitude and APT-Get programs.

There were a couple other annoying things I uncovered. For one, there is a screenshot application included, but it works entirely behind the scenes; there is no indication that a screenshot was taken, so one would have to manually go through the home folder to search for where it might be. For another, PCManFM seems to have no preferred applications configured. It even asked me with what application I wanted to open one of the screenshots that I took, even though there is only one image viewer (Mirage) included.

Well, that's really all I have to say about MadBox 11.10. The few annoyances I experienced were admittedly minor (except for maybe the lack of a GUI package manager). Plus, the ISO file is under 400 MB, which is amazing. But most importantly, despite having been on hiatus for many months, it does not seem to have regressed at all, which is great. My feelings about MadBox thus have not changed appreciably, and I can still feel comfortable recommending it to newbies.
You can get it here (though the page is in French).